When speaking in English, the word "well" is often used as a buffer between sentences or when answering a question. Example:

What are neural networks? – Well, neural networks are …

What would be equivalent to this in German? Good translations of spoken language are hard to find in a dictionary.

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    buffer between sentences - Starting to think without stopping to talk ;) – tofro May 6 at 21:18
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    Avoid it in English and in German. – Paul Frost May 6 at 22:55
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    @PaulFrost It depends on your tone and context. In a technical written document, you should probably avoid such words. But in a speech to a group, words like 'Well' help signpost the structure of your thoughts and make things clear to the audience (as well as giving the speaker time to think). – dbmag9 May 7 at 13:06

There are a few options.

"Nun" is among the more formal options. It can be used in written language:

Well, neural networks are ... - Nun, neuronale Netze sind ...

"Also" is less formal:

Well, actually ... - Also, eigentlich ...

"Tja" is informal and mostly used in spoken language:

Well, nothing we can do. - Tja, kann man nichts machen.

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    My first idea was nun ja, but it is close enough. I still suspect, that well can be used in lots of other positions in a sentence, where nun would be a poor choice. – guidot May 6 at 20:45
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    If the OP refers to that special case of the long, drawn out "Weeeelllll..." (signalling "I gotta gather my thoughts on that"), I'd go for "Aaaalsoooo..." (signalling that I'll probably produce a satisfactory answer after I gathered my thoughts) or "Tjaaaaaa..." (signalling that this probably will end with an unsatisfactory answer unless something comes to my mind during gathering my thoughts). – orithena May 7 at 16:40
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    These are all good, but I'd add "na ja", especially if the question makes a doubtful assertion. For example "Du würdest also niemals eine Waffe in die Hand nehmen?" "Na ja, das kommt natürlich auf die Umstände an." – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 9 at 14:36

We are talking about (structural) discourse markers (German: Gliederungssignale) that are used to mark the turn-taking by the other speaker and the beginning of a new section of the conversation (German: Eröffnungssignale).

In German, this can be realized by nun:

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? – Nun, neuronale Netzwerke sind …

Nun is quite neutral and can be used before an elaborate answer as well as before a hesitant one.

To mark an answer that is somehow unconventional, e.g. starts from scratch or goes into greater detail, or if the speaker is somewhat uncertain about the question, the particle also is often heard:

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? – Also, neuronale Netzwerke sind …

Then of course, there are many other discourse markers beyond nun=well an answer could be started with:

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? –

  • Wenn du mich fragst, sind neuronale Netzwerke …
  • Lass mich das so beantworten: Neuronale Netzwerke sind …
  • Ich würde sagen: Neuronale Netzwerke sind …

Expressing a degree of uncertainty about the conclusion, the interjection Naja ("drückt Zustimmung aus") is quite common.

Warum das so ist?

Naja, weil es eben so ist!

The superficial analysis as a compound of nein and ja does not matter in ths regard; it is probably misleading, if it might as well belong with above mentioned "nun".

See also de.wt https://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/na_ja

  1. Ausdruck des Zweifels
  2. Ausruf der Zustimmung

The duden web page doesn't even define this discourse particle.

For comparison, consider the positive polarity items in Ancient Greek nai "really, yes", and Latin ne "really", *usually connected with the PIE demonstrative *(h1e)no- "that one" (R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Leiden), which doesn't make a ton of sense to me, but that's what it is, it might be related to najâ as well.

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    I'm a bit surprised that na ja is paraphrased as expressing agreement by the DWDS. Counterexample: "Windräder sehen hässlich aus und schaden mehr, als sie nützen." – "Na ja, ich sehe das völlig anders." To be honest, I'm struggling to think of even one case in which na ja clearly signals agreement rather than hesitation, uncertainty, or even disagreement. – Schmuddi May 7 at 8:26
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    @Schmuddi: Naja, das ist es doch. I mean, the ambiguity is why it matches well so well. Not to mention that certain uses of well are probably closer to German weil with irregular shortening (or lack of compensatory lengthening, conceivably because of reanalyzis as well + some particles before loss of the ending that was analyzed as particle while loss of the ending was already in progress, not to say exactly what particle; cp. short vowel in whilst with suffix intact). It's definitely not incorrect. Meanwhile, nun, nu at least are also used as Zeitworte. – vectory May 7 at 12:28
  • Take this example: "Nach der Covid Impfung sind voll viele Menschen gestorben" "Naja, das stimmt zwar, aber der Grund ist nicht die Impfung." Intially you confirm the claim, however, you most like are about to add a "but". That being said, "Ausruf der Zustimmung" as claimed on wiktionary is definitely false. – infinitezero May 9 at 19:14
  • Naja ne je nachdem, it depends on the intonation for one. The notion is ridiculous that because there are examples for one sense it could not have another. Wiktionary is definitely correct. The appropriate example would go like this; User EZ: Das wäre doch widersprüchlich. User V: Naja! Das sage ich doch die ganze Zeit". Maybe that's regional. – vectory May 9 at 20:46

“Nun”, “also”, “tja” and “naja” are all options. Others include:

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? – Das is so, neuronale Netzwerke sind...

This corresponds to what could in English also be expressed more verbosely with something like “as a matter of fact”.

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? – Nämlich, neuronale Netzwerke sind...

Arguably ungrammatical (The right form would be “Neuronale Netzwerke sind nämlich”), but I've definitely heard people use expressions of this form.

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? – Äh, neuronale Netzwerke sind...

That's what you could also have in English with “erm”: more of a filler when you need to think a bit before answering.

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? – Im Grunde sind neuronale Netzwerke...

This changes the meaning of the interpretation a bit, indicates that the explanation will be idealised / simplified. Could in English be said with “in principle” or “at their most basic”.

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? – Ja, neuronale Netzwerke sind...

The word means simply yes, but in this context it would be a filler much like “tja” or “also”, but a bit more positive.

Was sind neuronale Netzwerke? – Genau, neuronale Netzwerke sind...

In this context, would not imply added precision on the answer, but rather just confirms that the question was worthwhile to ask.


I'll mention zwar because no-one else has. It's a fairly meaningless emphasiser and time-filler that some Germans use all the time, and it's very hard to know except by practice when it's appropriate and when it isn't. You wouldn't use it in this example (answering your own question), but you might well use it when adding supplementary information that's only just come to mind: Neuronale Netzwerke sind XXX. Und zwar, sie sind auch YYY.

  • It's not meaningless. The common etymology has it as zu wahr. Währent mir das zu unklar ist und ich zu wahr an der Herleitung zweifelte, hab ich es aber dennoch akzeptiert. – vectory May 9 at 20:51
  • I meant meaningless in the sense that prefacing a statement with "It is true that" is logically meaningless, but of course there are subtle connotations which affect the strength of the message. – Michael Kay May 10 at 18:03
  • Ergo, it doesn't strictly mean "it is true that". I find the given example to be atypical to a high degree or needlessly archaising, "Und zwar, sie sind auch ..." though this may be because of a lack of exposure. That's neither illogical nor meaningless, but umständlich. Although, as you freely admitted in the answer, it doesn't answer the question. It does work though, depending on intonation and the different kinds of "well" we are left to guess. Should I explain? Und zwar! Here is the type of "well (then)" I'd typeset with exclamation. Well, but um... there's the drawn out one too for eg. – vectory May 10 at 19:44

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